The Bonniest Bear


Teddy bear and rabbit Illustration: Shutterstock

WRITTEN BY ELIZABETH McKAY

Who might be rubbed up the wrong way in a school contest that’s about far more than cuddly toys?

Louise waited anxiously at the school gates, wondering how Jessie’s day had gone. She’d been tearful at breakfast and reluctant to let go of Louise’s hand when the bell rang for the children to line up.

Miss Anderson had been very understanding, saying lots of children reacted this way after a marriage break-up. She had promised to keep a close eye on Jessie.

Suddenly the big doors were flung open and a clatter of children spilled into the playground, laughing and yelling, delighted to be free.

“Mummy. Mummy.”

Louise knelt down to catch Jessie in her arms and give her a comforting hug. But the six-year-old seemed to have more pressing things on her mind.

“I’ve got a letter for you in my bag, but I can tell you about it now if you want. It’s really, really exciting.”

“In that case, I think you better tell me now,” said Louise as they walked towards the crossing. “I don’t think I can wait until we get home.”

“We’re having a school fat.”

“A fat? Oh, you mean a fête. Gosh, that is exciting.”

“There’ll be ice-cream and candy floss and balloons and tables to buy things.”

“Ooh – we’d better start saving up then,” said Louise.

They’d reached home now, and Louise was putting the key in the lock.

“That’s not the best bit,” said Jessie, shrugging off her schoolbag and letting it drop on the floor. “Do you want to know the best bit, Mummy?”

“I do.” Louise picked up the bag.

“The best bit is there’s going to be a Bonniest Bear Competition.”

“Wow.”

“All the teddies have to sit on a table and a judge person will choose the bonniest. That means beautiful. Miss Anderson told us. I’m taking Gruffly cos he’s the beautifulest bear ever.”

“We might have to spruce him up first, darling,” said Louise. “He’s let himself go a bit lately.”

“Can we buy him a new ribbon to tie around his neck?” asked Jessie.

“Yes, of course we can. We’ll go to the shop tomorrow and choose a colour.”

“I’m going to tell him,” said Jessie.

Louise listened to her clumping up the stairs and sighed. It would take more than a new ribbon to make Gruffly look anything like beautiful. Not when half of his right ear was missing, his fur was matted, and his body was covered in stitches where Louise had carried out emergency surgery to stop his stuffing coming out.

Yet where would they be without him? He might not be the most glamorous of teddies, but he was the one whom Jessie had turned to in her distress when her daddy had told her he was going to live in another house.

It was Gruffly Jessie clung to every night before she went to sleep. Gruffly who soaked up her tears. Gruffly who listened to her whispered secrets in the middle of the night, when Louise, listening outside the bedroom door, couldn’t hear what she was saying.

No wonder Gruffly was beautiful in Jessie’s eyes. Louise hoped that whoever was judging the competition wouldn’t be too scathing in their comments.


Her hopes were dashed when she met Kate the next day. Kate’s daughter, Ali, was in Jessie’s class and it was through the two of them that the women had become friends.

They went for coffee after dropping the girls off at school and the conversation inevitably turned to the fête.

“Have you heard who’s judging the Bonniest Bear Competition?” Kate asked.

Louise shook her head.

“It’s the manager of that fancy new toy emporium in the shopping centre.”

“That place? I’ve heard that you need a mortgage to buy one of their doll’s houses,” said Louise.

They both laughed.

“Poor Jessie,” said Louise. “She’s convinced Gruffly’s the most beautiful bear in the world. I hope this man’s kind and doesn’t hurt her feelings. She’s had enough to deal with lately.”

“At least Gruffly’s an actual teddy bear,” said Kate. “Ali’s insisting on entering Bob Tail.”

“Bob Tail?”

“He’s a long-eared rabbit. She’s got umpteen teddies but none match up to Bob Tail. He’s her favourite. Nothing I can say will convince her to choose something else.”

Louise sighed. “Who would have thought something like a teddy bear competition could turn out to be so stressful?”

“We need more cake,” said Kate.


The day of the fête arrived sunny and warm. Jessie had spent the morning brushing Gruffly’s matted fur and tying and retying the red ribbon she’d picked.

“He looks really beautiful now, doesn’t he, Mummy?” she said as they walked towards the school.

“He does,” said Louise. But she was actually thinking Gruffly had as much chance of winning the Bonniest Bear Competition as she had of being crowned Miss World.

Kate and Ali were already there when they arrived at the table where the bears were being displayed. Someone had scattered on it little picnic rugs with tiny cups and saucers, along with miniature jars of honey.

The girls hugged as if they hadn’t seen each other for weeks and then the introductions were made.

“This is Gruffly,” Jessie said proudly. “He’s got a new ribbon for the competition.”

“And this is Bob Tail,” said Ali, equally proud.

“They can sit next to each other,” said Jessie.

They’ll keep each other company until we come back to collect them.

“Excuse me, please.”

Everyone moved aside to make room for a woman and a little girl as they pushed closer to the table.

“That’s Amanda Scott,” Kate said to Louise. “She lives in one of those posh houses overlooking the meadow. Her daughter’s in the year above Ali and Jessie.”

They watched Amanda Scott reach into a carrier bag and produce a very large and very expensive-looking teddy bear and place it in the centre of the table.

“What’s his name?” Jessie asked.

The little girl looked puzzled.

“He doesn’t have a name.”

“What do you call him when you play with him?” asked Ali.

The child shook her head.

“I’m not allowed to play with him. He sits up on the high shelf in my room.”

Amanda Scott nodded at Louise and Kate and gave a condescending smile.

My parents bought him for Charlotte when she was born. He’s limited edition and rather valuable. We couldn’t possibly risk him getting damaged, so we keep him out of reach of sticky little hands.

Neither Louise nor Kate could think of anything (polite) to say in reply, so they said nothing at all.

“What on earth’s that doing on the table?” Amanda Scott asked, pointing a long red nail at Bob Tail.

“He’s mine,” said Ali.

“This is a competition for teddy bears, dear,” said Amanda Scott. “I’m sure it’s against the rules to enter a rabbit.”

Ali’s face crumpled and it was obvious tears weren’t far away.

Louise opened her mouth to say something – this time she didn’t care about being polite – but she was spared by the timely intervention of Miss Anderson who was hovering in the background.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” said Miss Anderson. “Lovely to see you all. Is everything all right?”

Amanda Scott repeated her concerns about a breach of the rules. The teacher listened and nodded in the appropriate places. When she was sure the other woman had finally run out of steam, Miss Anderson smiled and said she was sure no one would mind Bob Tail taking part. He was a very handsome rabbit – and after all, the competition was only intended to be a bit of fun for the children.

Her emphasis on the word children wasn’t lost on Louise and Kate who both offered her a grateful smile before taking their daughters off to sample the delights on offer at the fête.

Louise felt happier than she had in ages. Kate was turning out to be a true friend and good company, and Jessie was laughing heartily with Ali. They were watching a gymnastic display when the announcement came over the tannoy that the results of the Bonniest Bear Competition were about to be revealed.

“No prizes for guessing who the winner’s going to be,” said Louise as they made their way to table.

“Well, it is limited edition and frightfully valuable,” said Kate, doing a fair imitation of Amanda Scott.

They were still laughing when they arrived at the judging area and saw Amanda Scott already there, standing right in front of the judge’s bench which had been laid out with coloured rosettes and badges and packets of sweets.

“He’s not what I imagined he’d be,” said Louise when Miss Anderson introduced Brian Taylor, the Manager of the Toy Emporium. “I thought he’d be a bit of a fuddy-duddy in a suit and a tie.”

Instead, he was a man in his forties, wearing jeans and a casual, open-necked checked shirt.

He rose to his feet and immediately endeared himself to everyone by saying how much he’d enjoyed meeting the bears and hearing their stories. Louise guessed Miss Anderson might have had a hand in that. There was a round of applause when he said all the children would receive a badge and a bag of sweets for taking part.

“And now the prize winners,” he said. “Third place goes to… Bingo, who I’ve been told has travelled all the way from Syria to be here today. I’m sure you’ll all agree he deserves a reward for undertaking such a long journey.”

There was a huge round of applause as a little boy burst from the crowd and ran to the front to claim his prize, and his beloved bear which Miss Anderson was holding up for everyone to see.

“He’s in my niece’s class,” Kate told Louise. “They’re a lovely family but they’ve had a horrendous time by all accounts.”

Brian Taylor started speaking again. “Second place goes to… Bob Tail.” There was more clapping and a few good-hearted laughs when Miss Anderson held up Bob Tail and Ali went to the front.

“The reason I chose Bob Tail is because I believe he’s a very bold little rabbit. He might look different from the other contestants, but he’s not afraid to stand out from the crowd and be himself.”

Louise nudged Kate and nodded in the direction of Amanda Scott.

Someone’s not a happy bunny.

They both giggled.

“And now,” said Brian, “I’m delighted to announce the winner of the Bonniest Bear competition is… Gruffly.”

There was a mixture of cheers and whistles when Miss Anderson held Gruffly up for everyone to see.

“Gruffly is everything a teddy bear should be,” said the judge. “It’s obvious he’s fought a few battles, making him a very brave little bear. It’s clear to see he’s been well loved and I’m guessing he’s given back just as much love in return.”

“You can say that again,” Louise muttered as she wiped her eyes and watched Jessie race to collect her prize.

Jessie and Ali beamed with pride as people gathered round them to offer their congratulations. All except Amanda Scott who had cornered Brian Taylor and seemed to be berating him.

Louise and Kate saw her snatch up the limited edition, rather valuable teddy bear and stuff it back into the carrier bag.

“Poor bear,” said Louise, “destined for a life on a high shelf.”

“I suppose he’ll just have to grin and bear it,” said Kate, as the two friends linked arms and followed their daughters to the ice-cream tent.


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Allison Hay

I joined the My Weekly team twelve years ago, and I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazine. I manage the digital content for the brand, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters. I also work for Your Best Ever Christmas - perfect as it's my favourite time of year!